pink = where I went
This trip was my first time in Idaho, aside from driving across the skinny northern part a few times. I was invited by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts (known as “the Center”) to stay at the Ezra Pound House in Hailey for a week, and I chose January so I could be in snow.
I flew into Boise and drove with heart leaping at the colors the whole drive to Hailey. Butter yellow and ochre of the grasses in the snow, pink and periwinkle with white and olive and black.
The Ezra Pound House is in fact where Pound was born and resided during his toddlerhood. (Were his tantrums poetic?) The house is owned by the Center and has been beautifully restored and maintained. Birds and lions whisper in complete sentences from the wallpapers.
That first night there were green sparks in the blankets when I moved in bed. I woke up with a feeling of having had electric dreams. The next day I drove 20 miles north to the Center in Ketchum and met curator Courtney Gilbert and artistic director Kristin Poole, who were both so warm and welcoming and gave me recommendations of places to go.
Courtney and Kristin said I should drive through the Sawtooth Mountains to Stanley, a tiny town of ranchers.
In Stanley, I went to the Mountain Village Inn and asked the guy behind the counter where he thought I should go.
A few other guys came out from the back and they all brainstormed about places to send me.
They told me about the town hockey rink, which is a main hub of activity. There was no one at the rink when I got there but soon a family arrived, all of them skating. The mom had some moves!
These sections of carpet were laid out near the rink. There was a twin/shadow stain where one had been moved, I think.
After my time at the ice rink and wandering around in the snow, I headed back to the Mountain Village Inn.
I sat at the bar with men in baseball caps watching football. When I got there they were all riveted by the game and I don’t think they really registered my presence. Then when the game cut to a commercial break I saw a faint ripple of surprise pass over them. I stuck out so thoroughly I figured I might as well order tea. And it might as well be herbal, which is what my stomach really wanted. I tried to look friendly and approachable, smiling hopefully whenever one glanced in my direction, but they didn’t talk to me. So I sat and drank my chamomile tea and wrote in my sketchbook and they sat in a row and watched the game with a new level of concentration.
At lunch one day, Kristin and Courtney told me about Ezra Pound, whom I didn’t know much about. He was an anti-Semitic fascist who adored Mussolini. (!) After he was imprisoned for being a traitor of the U.S., Hemingway petitioned for his release, and was successful, though eventually Pound ended up in an asylum. Idaho was a significant landscape in the life cycle of both men: Pound was born in Hailey, and Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in the Sun Valley Lodge and killed himself in a house nearby.
I spent a lot of time in this quiet house in the snow. My favorite room in the house (as is often the case) was the kitchen. I sat, ate, stared out the window, wrote, and read at the kitchen table. It was such an odd sensation to be in this kind of quiet. It had been a long time since I’d been physically alone in this way, unmoored from all of the people and responsibilities and surroundings that tell me who I am. I found myself in an existentially questioning land that I totally recognized but hadn’t been in for a long time. For me Idaho was as much about being in this place as it was about being in Idaho. I was telling a friend about this experience and he aptly pointed out that I was in my own private Idaho.
Courtney said that Galena Lodge is one of her favorite places in the world, that there are beautiful trails for snowshoeing. She generously loaned me her snowshoes and I went snowshoeing there and other places around town nearly every day.
Kristin invited me to dinner at her and her partner Melanie’s house, with their good friend Jeanne Meyer and Jeanne’s son Lucas.
Kristin made a delicious dish with polenta and gruyere. They all told me about the issues dividing Idaho at the moment: wolves and abortion. Ranchers are vehemently against the conservationists’ reintroduction of the grey wolf to the ecosystem. Abortion is the same as everywhere else. Kristin and Jeanne said I should go to Twin Falls on my way back to the Boise airport in a few days, and Jeanne connected me with her friend in Twin, Jan Mittleider.
The drive from Hailey to Twin featured a lava-formed landscape of black soft clumps and crumbles, like crumbled Oreos. It was otherworldly in the fog.
My first stop in town was a McDonald’s to use the bathroom. On my way out I saw a mom with a baby in a car seat and a little girl sitting at a table. They looked nearly done with their lunch, so I went over to talk to her. She was startled when I came over but was happy to talk to me. She grew up Buhl, a town nearby, then moved to Las Vegas, but then came back to Buhl. When she was little her mom used to take them to a nearby park with waterfalls. She told me about a bench near the waterfalls where people would carve their names. She didn’t remember the exact name of the park, but I said I’d try to find it. She hadn’t been back since she was a kid. She was clearly so fond of the park, I wondered if she would go back, maybe with her own kids.
I sat in my car and googled “Buhl park with waterfalls” and actually found her park! On my way there I passed this spectacular vision. I googled that too - “farm mound white plastic with tires” - and found out that it is cow food under there.
In the vicinity of the park, I drove on many muddy side roads and thought I’d taken another wrong turn when I landed at a trailhead that looked promising. I got out and walked up the trail and found waterfalls! And lo! Her bench! With names carved in it!
I met Jeanne’s friend Jan at the cafe inside a strip mall Barnes & Noble. Our meeting was a last-minute thing; she is a busy lady and was only able to do it because she was getting over a cold and had taken the week off. She admitted that rather than resting she had mostly spent the week cleaning the house. She was fabulously stylish and full of energy and drove me around town to her favorite places, all while sharing stories about her life. Her generosity and passion were totally inspiring.
Jan grew up in the Boise area and came to Twin Falls for a job at the community college. She said Twin Falls has two lifebloods: the Snake River, and the community college, where she taught for over 40 years. The college is accessible to all; 80% of people get scholarships. “I love the mission of a community college, doing more with less money. Less red tape.”
Jan was hired by the college’s first president. Shaking her head, she told me how shortly after she was hired he took her to a playboy club in Denver when they were there for a conference.
Jan has worn many hats in leadership roles in town, including serving on the boards of the community college and the Idaho Commission for the Arts, and is president of the Magic Valley Arts Council. She told me with wonder and reverence that in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis, people in this agricultural town raised enough money to sustain the Arts Center.
Driving down the 486 feet to the bottom of the Snake River Canyon, Jan told me about her neighbor, an older man whose childhood home was on the bottom of the canyon. He had a homemade cable car that would take him up the canyon to go to school.
On our way down the windy road, we passed two women in a convertible, which totally delighted her. She waved a big hello and hooted “How’s that for optimism!”
Jan said, “I think it’s so healing to come here. It’s inter-generational and appeals to everyone. Refugee families, Hispanic families, everybody. In summer people will come here after work and go kayaking.” Also, people jump off the bridge.
Jan’s son worked on the trail that leads to the base of the bridge for his Eagle Scout project. It’s the trail used by rescuers/retrievers when someone jumps. Years after the trail was complete, her son had this sign made in honor of his Scout leader, Frank Mogensen, who was a state cop and scout leader for decades. Jan credits the scouts for teaching her boys how to cook.
Back in the Barnes & Noble parking lot after our whirlwind tour, I thanked her profusely and she said, “It’s my pleasure. We’re all connected in powerful ways; we all need to help each other when we can. Besides I would just be at home cleaning out closets and coughing my head off.”